The black circle, p.1
The Black Circle, p.1Patrick Carman
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THE BLACK CIRCLE
For Rachel Griffiths,
Master of the Cahill Universe.
Thank you for helping me
discover Russia’s treasures.
Table of Contents
Find the 39 Clues!
Amy Cahill liked to be the first one up in the morning. But not if it was because someone was screaming outside her hotel-room door.
“Telegram for Mr. Cahill!”
The words were accompanied by a thunderous knocking. Amy bolted upright in a panic, a terrifying thought racing through her mind. Madrigals!
The yell came again.
“Message for you!”
Amy, her brother, Dan, and their au pair, Nellie, had fled to a different Cairo hotel in the night, afraid they might be attacked by the mysterious sect they knew so little about. The Madrigals couldn’t know where we are, could they?
Dan rolled off the fuzzy gold couch he was sleeping on and landed on the floor with a thud.
“No, Irina! Not the Catfish Hunter!” he yelled. Amy sighed. Once again, her brother was locked in a dream in which their cousin Irina Spasky was shredding a beloved baseball card with her fingernails.
“Wake up, Dan. You’re dreaming.”
Amy had never felt so tired in her life, and her brother was, as usual, acting like an idiot.
The knock at the door came again.
“Dan! Get … the … door!”
Amy stuffed her face in a pillow and screamed. She was awake for good and she knew it. Peering past her pillow, she saw that Nellie was still totally dead to the world.
“Coming!” cried Amy. “Hold your horses!”
When she reached the door, she hesitated, a familiar fear gripping her insides. What if she let someone dangerous in?
Come on, Amy, get a grip.
Amy opened the door, her eyes settling on an Egyptian bellboy standing in the hall. He was shorter than she was by a mile, wearing a spiffy red uniform with gold buttons up the front that was at least two sizes too big. In his hands was a sealed envelope.
“For you, madam, from the desk. Someone has leaved it.”
Amy took the envelope, and the bellboy stepped a tiny bit closer, beaming at her expectantly.
“I bring message from the desk,” said the bellboy. “For you, madam.”
His feet were halfway in and halfway out of the room, which made Amy nervous.
“Is there something else you have for me?” asked Amy.
“Someone has leaved it for you,” he said, pointing at the envelope with a happy grin.
“Give him this,” said Dan. “Then I can go back to sleep.”
Dan’s voice was muffled, and when Amy turned around, she saw that he was talking into the carpeted floor, too lazy to lift his head. He was holding up a five-pound Egyptian note, worth about one dollar.
Amy shut the door. Curiosity had killed any hope of going back to bed. The envelope had been addressed on an old-style typewriter that appeared to be missing the capital A. The underline was also randomly stuck on some of the letters.
She tore it open and sat on the couch, her face whitening as she scanned the note. Saladin meowed hungrily and raised his back, claws bared on the gold bedspread.
“Dan, you better get up here.”
Dan didn’t move, so she yelled.
“TELEGRAM FOR DAN!”
Dan lifted his head as if mustering the energy for a comeback, but Amy could tell her brother was still clawing his way out of dreamland. He stood up from the floor and dropped heavily onto the couch. Nellie was still curled up under the covers on one of the two beds in the room, the thin white cord of her iPod ear-buds snaking out from under a pile of seven pillows covering her head.
“That girl could sleep through a demolition derby,” said Dan.
“Dan! Listen!” Amy said, holding the telegram as she began to read. “‘Cairo International Airport, locker number 328. 56-12-19. NRR.’”
“Sounds like a lame trap set by one of our competitors. Let’s order room service and go back to bed.”
“I don’t think so,” said Amy. She held out the message so Dan could examine it. What he found on the paper took his breath away.
Lazy Dan left the building and was replaced by Alarmed Dan.
“No one knows about this, not even Nellie.”
“Grace knew,” said Amy. “You, me, and Grace. Whoever sent this must have known Grace well enough to get this out of her.”
Dan was still too dumbstruck to respond, but Amy knew what he was thinking. Just last year he’d brought his prized collection of bottle caps to Grace’s mansion — everything from Dr. Pepper to vintage Coca-Cola — and all sixty-three caps in a super-cool old-school cigar box. Grace had given him a spade and told him he could bury it on the property if he wanted. He’d told Amy and Grace where the treasure was hidden, even how deep he’d buried the box, just in case he died unexpectedly, snowboarding or skydiving. As he said at the time, it paid to be safe with a bottle cap collection.
Dan looked at his sister, his green eyes brimming with hope.
“Do you think Grace is helping us again?”
Amy and Dan both used Grace’s name as if their grandmother were still alive, and for a moment it felt like she was. Their beloved old Grace, who’d given her heirs a choice: a million dollars or one of 39 Clues leading to immense power. Amy still couldn’t believe where the chase had led them in such a short time. They’d traversed four continents and been nearly killed more than once by their own relatives. If there was even a chance Grace Cahill was still offering help from the grave, Amy knew they had to follow the trail. “Come on. We’re getting out of here.”
Ten minutes later, Dan and Amy made their way down to the bustling hotel lobby with nothing but a backpack between them. Dan had insisted on bringing his precious laptop, and Amy had grabbed Nellie’s cell phone, just in case.
“I left Nellie a note saying we went looking for doughnuts. Let’s just hope this doesn’t take all morning. What we need right now is a way to the airport,” said Amy.
“No worries, I got it covered.”
Dan opened their backpack and removed a wad of money, stuffing the rumpled bills into his pocket. It didn’t amount to much, about fifty American dollars’ worth of Egyptian pound notes.
“Yo! Cabby! Yo!”
Dan held out a few bills and waited.
“We’re not in New York,” Amy hissed. “Try to act like you have a clue.”
As if by magic, a black-and-white car with a monstrous luggage rack pulled up and skidded to a stop. An Egyptian man
“Come, come! I have nice car for you!”
Dan tossed Amy an I-told-you-so look and marched for the car. The cabdriver hopped out and opened the door, then quick as a rabbit, snatched the backpack from Dan and headed for the trunk.
“No thanks, amigo. I’ll keep the bag on me if you don’t mind.”
The driver didn’t seem to understand, so Dan grabbed the backpack, handed the cabby a ten-pound note, and dove into the backseat, commando style.
Amy turned bright red and stammered an apology. She had a feeling Dan was warming up for a long morning of humiliating his sister.
“We’re in a hurry, my man,” said Dan, confirming Amy’s suspicions. “The airport, double time.”
“Fast is middle name!” The man laughed, slamming the door just shy of Amy’s foot and racing for the front seat.
“You see there, sis? Everything is fine. This guy is perfect. Just sit back and re-laaaaaaah —!”
The cab (and Dan) screamed into traffic, weaving and dodging like an amusement park ride gone haywire. Amy was tossed into Dan, then against the door, then back into Dan as they dodged honking buses and irate pedestrians. When they hit a slow patch, Amy caught sight of a big problem behind them. She turned to her brother, wide-eyed and worried.
“He does leave a little to be desired in the safety department, doesn’t he? I’ll ask him to take ’er down a notch.”
“N-N-NO! Tell him to speed up! Speed up!”
Dan glanced past his sister’s stricken face to the bright yellow Vespa zigzagging between cars behind them. Someone in a purple sweat suit was riding it, and that someone was huge.
It was Hamilton Holt of the Holt clan, a family of nitwits also in search of the 39 Clues. The last time Amy had seen him, Hamilton had left her for dead in a Tokyo train tunnel.
“Step on it!” yelled Amy, but the driver didn’t seem to hear her. Dan pulled out another precious ten-pound note and tossed it into the front seat.
That seemed to get the driver’s attention. His foot came down on the gas pedal like a hammer and the cab swerved violently into high gear. For the next ten minutes, Dan threw more and more money into the front seat until, at last, they looked back and Hamilton Holt was gone. When the cab lurched to a stop outside the Cairo airport, Dan checked his pockets. They were empty.
“Is okay,” said the driver, grinning from ear to ear. “You pay plenty already!”
“Nicely done, dweeb. Now we’re stuck at the airport with no money. Nellie’s going to love us when we wake her up and she discovers we’ve stolen her phone, spent most of our cash, and need a ride from the airport. And we don’t even have any doughnuts yet! Could it get any worse?”
“I think it just did,” said Dan.
Amy’s heart sank as a black stretch limo pulled up to the curb behind them, and a door opened.
Ian and Natalie Kabra, a Clue-hunting team infinitely more dangerous than the Holts, had arrived on the scene.
Most of the time, Dan Cahill would rather show up to school in his underwear than get involved in his sister’s love life. But this was different.
Ian Kabra emerged from the limousine with a smirk the size of Texas plastered on his face, as self-assured as ever. Dan glanced over at his sister. Amy was glaring at Ian, but Dan could see her hands were trembling. This guy—this ogre — had not only lied about liking his sister, he’d tried to trap them in a cave. And leave them there forever.
It was time to lower the boom.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing up here after you tried to kill us!” Dan shouted.
“Let’s not get carried away. Your little brother has a big imagination,” said Ian, taking a step toward Amy. “You know I’d never actually hurt you.”
Dan knew if Amy tried to talk it would come out all stutters. He wasn’t going to let Ian Kabra anywhere near his sister.
“Hold it together, Amy,” he whispered.
“I’m fine,” said Amy, but now her lip was quivering ever so slightly. Dan lashed out at Ian.
“Get back in your monstermobile and leave us alone!”
Ian gave Amy a sideways smile, then sauntered up to the cabdriver.
“Well done, my lead-footed friend. We had quite a time keeping up with you. Although I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Dan, eyeing the revolving doors into the airport terminal.
“You children play expensive games!” said the driver as he took a roll of rubber-banded bills from Ian and handed over a slick new phone in return.
“Espionage must have been so much harder before GPS, don’t you think?” asked Ian.
Ian’s sister, Natalie, emerged from the black limo like a model about to stroll down a media-frenzied red carpet.
“Did you sleep in those pathetic things you call clothes?”
Dan looked down at his zip-up hoodie, which was wrinkled beyond all imagining. Oops. He actually had slept in his clothes.
“Wrinkles are the new thing. Ask Jonah Wizard. He’ll tell you.”
“Make this easy on yourself and tell us why you’re here,” said Ian, moving closer to Dan and Amy. Amy’s eyes were locked on Ian’s face, like a mouse confronted by a cobra.
The cabdriver laughed at the scene playing out, got in his cab, and cranked it alive. A plume of black smoke burst from the tailpipe as he sped off, covering Natalie with a thin layer of soot. She howled and clutched protectively at her hair, which was just the diversion Dan needed.
“Come on, Amy!” he yelled. He grabbed Amy by the hand and bolted for the revolving doors, but Ian was quick on his feet and snatched Amy’s other hand. Dan pulled one way, Ian pulled the other. People were starting to take notice of the ruckus.
“Let my sister go!” yelled Dan.
“I think she likes it when I hold her hand,” said Ian. “Don’t you, Amy?”
Amy didn’t say a word. She reeled back and kicked Ian in the shin harder than she’d ever kicked anyone. There was a loud crack and Ian lost his grip, bouncing up and down on one leg as Dan and Amy ran for the revolving doors.
“Direct hit!” cried Dan.
“So long, suckers!” Amy yelled over her shoulder.
“Get them!” howled Ian, hobbling toward the terminal entrance with Natalie and their driver, a guy who looked like he could crack concrete with his forehead, close behind.
Once inside, Dan and Amy darted among a sea of people with rolling luggage, but the Kabras stayed on their tail.
“This way!” said Amy, taking Dan by the elbow and dragging him into a busy travelers’ store filled with candy bars and magazines. Seconds later, they were out the other side and into another store, through a web of foreigners. Dan was sure they’d lost the Kabras, but when he peered carefully around a corner, he saw Ian limping toward them, staring into his phone.
“Uh-oh,” said Dan. “I think we’ve been had.”
Dan took off his backpack and started unzipping compartments. Hidden in the front pocket was another cell phone, the GPS blinking their position.
“Double-crossed times two!” said Dan. “That cab-driver must have planted it when he got ahold of my backpack at the hotel.”
Amy looked around the corner once more. The Kabras were getting really close.
“Give it here,” she said, taking the phone from her brother. “I know just what to do with Ian’s precious gadget.”
Amy moved back into the flow of oncoming people with Dan close behind. She swept quickly across the wide corridor and dropped the phone into a passing baby stroller, then ducked into a bookstore and opened the first book she could find. The stroller was attached to a mother who was clearly late for a flight, parting traffic as she ran for her gate.
The Kabras were so intent on watching the screen on Ian’s phone that they walked right past Dan and Amy, then broke into a run themselves.
Amy shot Dan a triumphant smile. Clearly, outsmarting the Kabras — especially Ian — had put some Cahill sizzle back in her step.
“Let’s find that locker,” she said.
The locker wasn’t very big, about one foot square. But it was plenty full. There were three items inside, which Amy removed one at a time.
“This looks like a paperweight, don’t you think?” she asked, holding a honey-colored glass ball in the palm of her hand.
“Let me see,” Dan said, reaching out to grab it.
“No way! Knowing you, it’ll get dropped on the floor and smashed into a thousand pieces. Let me have a look first.”
Dan didn’t protest. He had already imagined what a marble that size would look like rolling down the long airport corridor.
“Try holding it in the light a little more,” said Dan.
Amy squinted up at it. “It looks like a room, and there’s a mother inside, sitting on a chair.”
“How do you know it’s a mother?” asked Dan.
“She’s holding a baby, stupid.”
Amy looked closer.
“There are three letters on one of the walls — TSV—and ew! I think that’s an eye staring back at me from another wall.”
“Creepy,” said Dan.
Amy held out the glass paperweight and told Dan to put it carefully in the backpack for future investigation. He hated it when she treated him like a three-year-old, and the temptation to roll the honey-colored ball down the airport corridor returned. He held it in the light again instead.
“Did you see the key?” asked Dan.
“What key? What are you talking about?”
“On the bottom,” said Dan, rolling the paperweight over. Under the floor of the room there was a small key hidden in the glass. “When the time comes, I get to bust it open.”
“The paperweight was holding something down,” said Amy, lifting out a thin piece of parchment about the width and length of her own hand. It was filled with ornately drawn letters, numbers, and lines.
The Black Circle by Patrick Carman / Mystery & Detective / Actions & Adventure / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes